Build your own pond and waterfall, then stock it with plants and fish. Learn the basic techniques for creating a relaxing water feature in your own backyard.
Take the time to arrange the rocks in pleasing combinations.
There's something soothing about the scent, sound and sight of water, something that washes away stress and strain. While you can't stop by the French Riviera or Walden Pond after a hectic day of work, you can have a private oasis waiting for you at home, complete with gurgling water and colorful fish.
In this story, we'll walk you through the basic steps for building a backyard pond. Roll up your sleeves—it's mostly muscle work. There's no need for precise measurements, no unforgiving blueprint to follow, and no deadlines. Working like beavers, you and anyone else with a strong back could probably finish a large pond in a couple of weekends. But that would take the fun out of it. Give yourself plenty of time and creating a pond will be almost as relaxing as sitting beside it.
The basic pond consists of a good-quality liner, a high-efficiency pump, and lots of stone and gravel. For a little bit more money you can add the convenience of a filtration system, which will reduce your weekly maintenance chores. Larger ponds won't cost a whole lot more; you've already made most of your investment in pumps and filters.
Use a garden hose to establish approximate pond borders, adjusting and readjusting until you're satisfied with the shape of the pond. Then dig out the pond bed, terracing both shallow and deeper areas for plants. Exposed rocks, tree roots and anything else that might puncture the liner must be removed from the hole.
Set a level on a board long enough to span the hole. Make the banks level by building up low spots or cutting down high spots.
Measure the depth of the hole and plant shelves, keeping in mind that the water level will be a few inches below the banks of the pond. Fish require a section at least 18 in. deep.
Digging out a pond hole is grunt work, not an intellectual endeavor. Still, it requires some planning. Before you grab your shovel, roughly map out the shape, desired plant shelves (Photo 2), and the pump and waterfall locations. Here are some more key considerations:
Line the pond bed with a 1/2-in. layer of newspapers. The newspaper helps prevent liner punctures and will eventually decompose and form a clay-like layer. You can also use the special pond underlayment that's available at your pond supply dealer.
Lay in the liner so it loosely conforms to the contours of the hole. Don't worry about folds and ripples; they'll flatten out when you add water. Put rocks on one side to hold the liner in place while you adjust the other. Any excess material can be trimmed off with scissors or a utility knife after the pond is full of water and encircled with rocks.
Line the pond sides with boulders and set in the pump container. Wash down the rocks after they're in place and then empty the pond with your pump. For large rocks, lay a scrap piece of liner slightly smaller than the rock on top of the pond liner before positioning the rock. This helps prevent punctures.
We're using a flexible liner made of a synthetic rubber called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer). The liner is economical, durable and easy to install. You can create almost any shape and it adapts well to most site conditions.
Flexible plastic liners are also available. They're made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and HDPE (high-density polyethylenes). These liners aren't as flexible as rubber liners. Plastic liners are often used on large holding ponds when economy is a concern and flexibility is not. The preformed liners found at many home and garden centers are less desirable. These are essentially large plastic or fiberglass tubs. At first glance, these seem easier to install, but this usually isn't the case. Preformed liners can be difficult to handle and level and, when lined with rocks and boulders, aren't as forgiving as flexible ones.
Guidelines for purchasing a liner
Plants and fish work together to keep the pond ecosystem healthy
A pond is just a hole filled with water. Add plants and it becomes a water garden. Add fish and your pond comes alive. You've got an entire aquatic ecosystem right in your back yard. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning for plants and fish.
It's important for water to circulate and aerate throughout the pond. Buying an inexpensive fountain head and connecting it to the end of the water circulation pipe is the easiest way to accomplish this.
The most dramatic way to circulate and aerate water in your pond is to construct a waterfall and stream. Install a stream bed liner the same way as for your pond. Begin by digging a holding pool. The pool keeps water from spraying out of the circulation pipe and allows it to spill lazily into the pond. Next, dig the course for the water to flow in. Two feet wide is a good dimension. Lay the liner in place, overlapping the pond liner by at least 6 in.
Creating an attractive water flow will take some trial-and- error adjustments of the rocks. But this is the fun part. Don't mortar your rocks in place. The mortar looks unnatural and makes it difficult to move rocks around to get the desired effect.
To control water's frustrating tendency to flow invisibly under or between rocks instead of pleasantly over them, fill hidden passages with expanding foam sealant. It's available at hardware stores. Pond suppliers also sell a special black-colored expanding foam that becomes almost invisible.
Buy a pump that'll turn over the pond's entire volume once per hour. To size your pump, calculate the approximate volume in your pond: Multiply the length (ft.) x the width (ft.) x the average depth (ft.) and multiply by the conversion factor of 7.48. Also note the height and distance the pump needs to move the water between the pump and the water inlet. With these figures in hand, consult your pump supplier for the pump size and circulation pipe diameter for your pond.
Once you've determined the pump size, decide whether to buy a high- or low-efficiency pump. High-efficiency pumps cost more but last longer and are less expensive to run. Since your pond pump will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the lower utility bills will soon make up for the higher price tag.
Place your pump in a pump container to keep it from clogging with leaves or debris. Either buy one from your pond dealer, install the pump in a skimmer container, or make one from a sturdy garbage can peppered with 1/4-in. holes (Photo 6). Don't be shy about drilling holes. The more water you allow through the can, the better.
Keeping your pond clean isn't difficult; once you get it down it'll be as routine as taking a bath. Your pond has two sources of pollution: debris that falls or blows into the water and algae. Pick up leaves and other windblown debris with a fine-mesh net. The type used for skimming swimming pools works great. Skim daily to prevent the material from sinking to the bottom, decomposing and creating sludge.
An easier but more expensive way to clean out this debris is with an automatic skimmer system, kind of a dishwasher for your pond. Once you have one, you can't imagine pond life without it. A skimmer system works off the inflow of your pump. Water is drawn through a tub containing a mesh bag that collects leaves, paper and other debris. The system bags it for you—all you have to do is empty the bag about once a week. The frequency will depend on the time of year, the amount of wind and the number of trees in your area. It's easiest to install a skimmer system w h e n y o u build your pond. If you decide to add it later, you'll have to drain your pond, dig a hole and readjust the liner.
The second threat to a clean pond is algae, microscopic plants that'll turn your pond green. A small amount of algae is beneficial, but large amounts can have your pond looking like the swamp monster scene from Scooby-Doo.
Keep algae at bay by limiting nutrients and sunlight. Here are some tips to do this:
Once you establish a biological balance in your pond, maintenance is minimal. A thorough annual cleaning (draining and rinsing out the pond) and periodic maintenance (keeping debris out) are all that's required.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.